BJD chief Naveen Patnaik’s three latest handpicked members for the Rajya Sabha has generated controversy and resentment in equal measure. Hours after the announcement, the media, especially the TV channels have been engaged in post mortem of the chief minister’s decision which belied his stand before the selection of the candidates for the Upper House.
The BJD boss had announced to the media that only political people would be chosen for the Rajya Sabha. Going by that declaration, education czar Achyuta Samanta sounds a rank outsider. Samanta who has built a sprawling educational empire- the KIIT Group of Institutions, has a sullied reputation of being a land grabber. The KIIT run by him received a notice from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) a few months back for encroachment of forest land. But, the Naveen Patnaik led government chose to gloss over the anomalies. Was it the bonhomie the KIIT founder enjoyed with the BJD chief? His cosy relationship with the chief minister and BJD has been one of the best kept secrets in Odisha. But what could be the CM’s compulsion or potential gain in nominating Samanta? The iconic educational entrepreneur is known to be a robust networker. He has exploited his connections and sold his tribal school model to draw the who’s who from almost all walks of life to his campus. KISS, a tribal residential school is unprecedented in itself, being home to 25,000 tribal children. Naveen must be looking to tap Samanta and his KISS to consolidate the tribal vote bank. As a quid pro quo, Samanta can breathe easy for all his glaring irregularities.
Second, by picking media moghul Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, Naveen wants to send a clear message to his suspended MP Baijayant Panda. Ever since his suspension and even prior to that, OTV run by Panda’s family has bas been deliberately running a motivated campaign aimed at vilification of the BJD and its leadership. With Soumya Patnaik jumping to the BJD mantle, Naveen is rest assured of positive publicity in Sambad, the numero uno daily and Kanak TV channel. It would also be a perfect foil to OTV, currently the most watched news channel in the state. Aside from gagging the media owned by Soumya Patnaik, Naveen would also be relieved of the mounting protests on chit fund victims and a litany of woes of farmers. All those protests against the government were spearheaded by the Eastern Media chairman.
Completing the BJD’s Rajya Sabha triumvirate is ace filmmaker turned politician Prashant Nanda. His selection has not raised eyebrows unlike Samanta and Patnaik. Perhaps Nanda is the only one within the BJD who was found suitable for the House of Elders. Naveen’s bizarre selection for the Rajya Sabha has generated considerable resentment in the BJD ranks though it has not surfaced. A host of BJD leaders were hopeful of a Rajya Sabha berth this time but their expectations were dashed. Only Jyoti Panigrahi, chairperson of the Women’s Commission has opened up saying she was shattered by the decision of her party president. Panigrahi even went on to assert that the selection was injustice as none was picked up from western Odisha despite the three BJD members whose terms end in April- AU Singhdeo, AV Swamy and Dilip Tirkey hailed from the region.
There is already a good amount of debate on what role would Samanta and Soumya Ranjan play at the Upper House. Despite having a sizeable strength of MPs in both houses, the BJD has been unable to make a mark at the national stage. One hardly hears of the incumbent BJD Parliamentarians raising vociferously Odisha’s interest and concerns as much as their counterparts from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal do. In that backdrop, more serious political representation was sorely needed for the BJD which has been keeping equidistance from the Congress and BJP. Is the BJD boss feeling compunction in vote bank compulsion? Electoral politics is laced with riddles but the winner takes it all.